With the Green Bay Packers not traveling for training camp this year, the Pittsburgh Steelers now possess the longest-running ongoing partnership with an outside training camp destination with Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, a venue at which they have sought respite for more than 50 years.
It doesn’t change, no matter who the head coach is, certainly not Mike Tomlin, now in his 16th season, and his 14th trip up to the serene acres of Saint Vincent, the last two years having been forced to conduct camp at home due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions. He told yesterday about the value of going away for camp with Pat Kirwan, Jim Miller, and Paul Alexander on the Movin’ the Chains program on SiriusXM Radio.
“Man, it is great to be here. We don’t take this for granted. I was telling somebody yesterday, all you need to do is be here with our group after our formal work of the day is done, and you see the value of this location”, he told his hosts.
“Guys sitting on picnic tables in the evening, talking about ball, talking about life, the old guys mentoring the young guys, working on the intangible things that make teams ‘teams’. We’re just really enjoying ourselves and appreciative of being back up here”.
Put simply, it’s easier to forge a camaraderie when everybody’s living quarters is within the same group of buildings and the typical ‘distractions’ of domestic life are put on pause for a period of time. There’s no better way to get to know a group of people than to spend substantially productive time with them, and that’s what the venue of Saint Vincent College provides.
Now, that doesn’t mean everybody up and down the roster is a fan of it, and perhaps for some more than others, they have outside obligations that are more pressing and less easily escapable. I’m certain exceptions are made where necessary.
But generally, no matter what one thinks of the traveling experience of camp, it does provide that environment through which to forge deeper relationships, and it occurs not by force, but naturally as an extension of the conditions in which it takes place.
That’s not something you can replicate inside the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. You might have a group of players stay after work to watch film or something like that, but at the end of the day, they go home to their own beds and their own lives.
Whatever value it may bring tangibly on the field is not something easily quantified at all. I don’t think going away to Saint Vincent College has ever been the difference between the Steelers winning a Super Bowl and not. But one can see why the tradition is valued as something more than just ‘something we’ve always done’. In Tomlin’s words it builds the “intangible things that make teams ‘teams’, rather than a group of individuals.